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Lovin´ Potatoes - Argentinean Cuisine

Updated on March 23, 2013

Potatoes, much more than staple food

Argentina, like many other countries including USA, uses potatoes as one of the main staple foods.

It has a subtle taste that blends well with other elements, allowing many different preparations. It´s high nutritional and caloric value makes one potato go a long way. It is easy to produce, and tolerates different climates, so they are available with little effort.

In Argentina, it is one of the default carb companion in every day food, competing with wheat (bread, pasta, etc). Other staple foods, like rice and corn come way behind - if you don´t consider how high fructose corn syrup sneaks in every packed food.

There are many preparations I took with me and cook in our every day foods. I will add here four of my personal recipes (with pics of foods we ate these days), nothing very weird or gourmet about them. Just my humble addition to get people back in the kitchen to cook our own foods. It is the ONLY way to be healthy and raise healthy kids.

The recipes are classics:

- Mayonnaise potato salad.

- Mashed potatoes.

- Potato Spanish tortilla.

- Fries

I told you... nothing fancy. Now... do you know how to do it right? :D

Boiled potatoes
Boiled potatoes

Nutritional values

The potato is mostly water. In a potato of 299 gr (a big one) baked with skin, 224 gr are water.

What else do we find?

Calories: Lots of calories (278 kcal), mostly from carbs (254 kcal). Pretty much not fats and some proteins.

Vitamins: Very good source of Vitamin C (48%) and Vitamin B6 (46%), and good source of Niacin (21%) and Folate (21%).

Minerals: Very good source of Potassium (46%) and Manganese (33%), and good source of Iron (18%), Magnesium (21%), Phosphorus (21%) and Copper (18%).

Reference: Self Nutrition Data - Potato, baked, flesh and skin, without salt. (they extracted the information from USDA SR-21)

Notes:

1. This values are to be taken with a grain of salt for many reasons. First, the values approved as "optimal" are in many cases the lower threshold before sickness by malnutrition. I don´t know in your book, but in mine, to be just a dash above sick is not good enough. Please do not take my word for it, by all means do your research.

2. It is only valid for food obtained from a nutritionally optimal soil. There are stats showing that most soils where industrial farming takes place lack most of the basic minerals. Industrial farming is based on maximizing revenue, so the fertilizers are designed to optimize production instead of nutritional value.

Origins and types

Potato fruit, photo courtesy of Dr. David Midgley
Potato fruit, photo courtesy of Dr. David Midgley

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) originates in the Plateau of the Andes, it was domesticated over 7000 years ago. The older fossilized potatoes were found at the south of Lima, Peru where the culture Wari used to live.

It was taken to Europe by the Spaniards, mostly as an ornamental plant. Yes, believe it or not, it has beautiful flowers and even fruits (see the image) - they are not edible though. If you think that the fruits look awfully familiar, you are right. The potato is from the same family of the tomato and the eggplant. The leaves are not edible either.

There are many types of potatoes, over 300 variations regularly produced. Some are more starchy, some are more waxy. The meat colors go from almost white to purple in some blue potatoes. Most of them are pale yellow. The skins have similar variations, not always the color of the skin correlates wit the color of the meat.

It is important to know your potatoes to make stellar preparations. You don´t need to know ALL about them, but you need to guess a starchy potato from a waxy one just looking at the skin. As a rule of the thumb, the rough or dirty skin looking are more starchy and the shinier are more waxy (and have more water). You use starchy potatoes to make mashed potatoes and preparations where the potato needs to break apart nice and soft, or glue together (like potato pancake). And you will use the waxy ones where you need them to keep the form (like the potato salad, bake or fry).

Some are considered "all purpose", because they hold on their own, but they become soft and break easy when needed. Those are the ones I prefer.

Some of my favorites are:

Jersey Royal Potato

Jersey Royal Potato
Jersey Royal Potato

White shiny looking - this is Monalisa, but there are many

White shiny looking - this is Monalisa, but there are many
White shiny looking - this is Monalisa, but there are many

Cherie variation and other red skin with light yellow meat

Cherie variation and other red skin with light yellow meat
Cherie variation and other red skin with light yellow meat
Potato sprouting
Potato sprouting

How to choose potatoes

The potatoes to be edible need to be firm to the tact, with no deep cuts, and no white weird looking parts. I think everyone gets this right or almost right.

The potato is from the nightshade family, so the bulbs need to stay in the dark. If they are exposed to the light, their color becomes green. If you ever see a green potato, discard it immediately, it is toxic.

Now I would like to go to a different direction here a bit. Potatoes are living things, they have and should have the potential to create a potato plant. To increase the life shelf and stop the plant from sprouting, the food industry uses two rounds of poison on the potatoes. This is a revenue based decision, not a service based decision. It increases our exposure to poison and we eat dead potatoes instead of living ones.

My recommendation is: leave one potato inside a plastic bag under the counter. If it rots without sprouting, do not buy from that seller again. Buy from a different place.

On the other hand, if your potatoes started to grow plants you can´t eat them either. Do not throw then to the garbage though. Cut them into pieces where each has a sprout and put them in 3 gallon plastic containers (or similar), cover them with dirt making sure the "eyes" look up, and you have your own "potato factory" at home. Why put them in containers? So you don´t need to dig, you just turn the container around and collect your potatoes. :D

How to grow your own potatoes

Lets get cooking

Potato Spanish tortilla
Potato Spanish tortilla
Potato salad
Potato salad

Potato Salad

A potato salad is very easy to make. It has one or two little tricks to have the potatoes firm like the ones of the image. See how they are completely cooked BUT still show corners?

There are as variations as cooks out there, I will use a very simple recipe I inherited from my mom. You can go fancy when you cook from time to time, but when you cook every single day, simpler is better.

The first trick is to choose the right potato. Get one of the clear shiny varieties, like Monalisa up here, make sure they are healthy.

Wash them carefully and peel them as close to the skin as your ability allows.

Cut them in small(ish) nice cubes of about half an inch (1 cm). It is important that they are of the same size as much as possible, because different sizes have different cooking times. By the way, NEVER mix different types of potatoes unless you know what you are doing, they have different cooking times as well.

Put water to boil with sea salt and a trickle of vinegar. The vinegar is what keeps the shape of the potatoes, here you got your trick. :D

Once the water is boiling put the potatoes cut, not before. Remember the golden rule when boiling vegetables: if you put the vegetables in cold water and boil later, the nutrients go to the water.

Cook them until tender, but don´t break on their own. The vinegar will make them a bit harder on the surface, check the taste as well to know if you have the right point.

-----------------

Now that you have the potatoes ready. It is time to make the salad.

If you are using home made mayonnaise, have it ready. It takes some time to make. Please remember that home made mayonnaise has to be eaten within the same day, it becomes toxic fast.

If you use bought mayonnaise, well, you might not feel sick but watch out for the "taste enhancers", they have the awful habit of frying neurons (look into excitoxins to know more).

So... make a sauce with the mayonnaise, mustard, minced garlic (if you like it), and chopped parsley. In the salad of the image, I didn´t use parsley but sage.

Mix the potatoes with the sauce, carefully so you don´t break the potatoes.

That´s it...

More potato salad...

Mash potato with beef
Mash potato with beef

Soft and fluffy mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes is one of the simplest yet most difficult dishes to get right in every day cooking. Anyone can boil potatoes and mash them but to have a fluffy awesome puree is a completely different ballgame. Or maybe it is me... took me forever to get it right.

We start again by choosing the right potato. Look for a starchy one, or a multipurpose one, like the Royal Jersey up there.

Like we did for the salad...

Peel it, cut it in small cubes and put them in boiling water. Add sea salt to the water, but NOT vinegar.

You are going to see that the corners wll start breaking. Taste one and see if it breaks easy with the fork and melts in your mouth. Then it is ready.

Now here comes the complicated part... because good mashed potatoes have to be made by hand, there is no blender or food processor that gets the right consistency.

Put the strained potatoes in a bowl, add butter, a handful of a good hard cheese not too aged and very well shredded (parmigiana, or provolone are my default choices), nutmeg and pepper. You are going to feel you are further than before from having a nice mashed potatoes. Do not panic.

Now add a bit of milk and start pureeing with a fork. Keep adding milk in small quantities until getting the consistency you want. You will be beating and pureeing the whole thing with the fork until you have a fluffy creamy consistency. If you chose the right potatoes and cooked them right, it will melt all and you will not find small pieces. Get the wrong potato... and you are up for a bumpy ride.

This last time we ate the mashed potatoes as side of beef (the part of the T-bone that is not the sirloin). As a second side dish I added a beats, eggs and green beans salad. Very simple to do, just boil everything and mix it with a bit of olive oil, sea salt and a dash of vinegar (or not...).

Spinach mashed potatoes

A great way to make awesome mashed potatoes when you are not so good at it, is to make mixed mashed potatoes. What do I mean? You add another vegetable, like spinach. Then the texture issues will be blamed to the spinach and not the potatoes. :)

This is an easy way to make kids eat their greens.

The recipe is the same, but adding boiled and finally chopped spinach. For this dish I used frozen. It saves the washing time.

Spinach mashed potatoes

Spinach mashed potatoes
Spinach mashed potatoes

More mashed potatoes...

Serve your mashed potatoes in style...

French fries
French fries

Crispy French fries

Lets face it, no matter how much we try to teach kids to eat healthy, they will always jump on a plate with french fries. In this section I´m going to add my mom´s recipe to make them very soft inside and crunchy on the outside. They are all times favorites. She makes them way better than me. :D

For french fries, choose an all purpose potato or a waxy one. In this case, the shape is very important; choose oblong potatoes. Some people do them with the skin, I peel all potatoes that are not home grown (and I am only a hobby gardener). It is sad, because closer to the skin there are more nutrients.

So, peel and cut the potatoes in "french fries" shape. Try to cut them of similar sizes or you will have problems when they cook - you will have to fish the smaller ones out before the others. Dry them very well with kitchen paper.

In a deep pan, pour a generous amount of sunflower oil. The choice of the oil will affect the color of the potatoes; sunflower oils gives you that beautiful golden color, other oils tend to make them brown. By all means avoid corn and canola oils unless they are organic and you know the grower, 90% of corn and canola oils in the market are GMO and highly toxic.

When the oil is hot (you know it putting one potato and looking at the bubbles around it), add your potatoes. Here is where I make them different than many... instead of using a small amount of potatoes and don´t let them touch each other. I add a lot together and let them entangle. This will put the temperature of the oil down and the potatoes will absorb part of the oil. Don´t panic!

When the temperature recovers and starts bubbling happily again, go a step forward and cover the pan. Yes, this crazy it is... This will keep the temperature of the oil lower than burning point, and will cook the potatoes inside.

When you take one out and it is soft(ish) inside, you can put the lid aside. With a spatula turn the whole thing around (they will be entangled) and give the oil full temperature to really make the crusts golden. This will also make some of the potatoes become almost empty inside, giving you that crunchy effect.

The potatoes are already cooked, so when the crust is golden, take them out. Put them over kitchen paper and press well from all angles, they will untangle easy.

Add salt only in the moment of eating, or they will get gluey.

More french fries...

Make French fries restaurant style...

Potato Spanish tortilla
Potato Spanish tortilla

Yummy Potato Spanish tortilla

I like my Spanish tortilla soft, so the choice for potatoes will be an all purposes or a starchy. Others like the potatoes to hold better, and choose waxy; it looks better as well, I just don´t like the feeling when biting that much. Some even like it crunchy and fry the potatoes all the way.

Cutting the potatoes again depend on the person. I cut it in slices, or in small cubes. For a small tortilla two mid size potatoes will do.

Now that we are cutting, we will also chop one onion, half a bell pepper and one tomato (taking liquid and seeds out).

In a pan with just a touch of oil, we cook the onion and bell pepper with a pinch of salt until the onion is transparent. Then we add the potatoes.

After sealing the potatoes, we add the tomato chopped, more salt and pepper, put a lid and finish cooking covered. If you see it is browning too much, add a lil bit of water (just a bit!). You might have to add more than once, or not, it depends on how much water the onion and the potatoes have.

We will have to stir the preparation from time to time, do it carefully with the wooden spoon and try not to break the potatoes too much, and at the same time do not let the bottom stick and burn.

When the potatoes are cooked and there is no liquid, we take it out of the burner and let it rest.

Meantime, we beat three eggs with some salt, dry tarragon and pepper, I like to add paprika or cayenne pepper to mine, the rest of my family prefer sweet paprika.

Once the eggs are well beaten, we add the potatoes mix and move softly to let the egg go everywhere without breaking the potatoes.

In a non stick pan with a very little oil, we add this preparation. Turn the burner to medium/slow, and cover.

When we see the borders have the egg cooked, we turn around the tortilla with a plate and cook what is still not done.

After a couple of minutes, it is ready to eat. Tortilla is delicious hot or cold. It can make a great left over breakfast... talking about fast food. :D

For even more detail on the preparation, visit my lens about Spanish tortillas.

More Spanish tortilla...

Comments? Questions? They are all welcome!!

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